I received a free copy of City Of Dark Magic via Goodreads’ FirstReads program, which I highly recommend checking out. The idea is that the publisher or author creates buzz for the books by releasing copies of them to readers who are encouraged to review them on the internet. This is one of those books I signed up for in the first frenzy of finding the program–I probably would not have picked it up from the library or a bookstore, and I don’t know if I would sign up for the giveaway in a less frenzied state. Frankly, the descriptions don’t really sound like a book that’s up my alley. That said, it was entertaining despite its flaws.
Sarah Weston is a music student who is offered a job out of the blue cataloging the handwritten Beethoven manuscripts for a Prague museum. But all is not as it seems….her mentor (who had been in Prague doing the same job Sarah is to do) supposedly commited suicide, which Sarah finds highly suspicious. She’s not sure what to think of the various other academics and staff working at Prague Castle in preparation for the museum opening–every one of them is odd in their own way. Even stranger is Nicolas Pertusato, a dwarf with a bad attitude and more secrets than a man should be able to aquire in one lifetime, and Max Anderson Lobkowicz, the newly-returned prince of the Czech royal family who Sarah feels an irrational connection with despite–or because of–his air of mystery. But when people begin showing up murdered, Sarah will have to decide who she can trust as she tries to stay alive and figure out what is going on….Throw in time travel, a flatulant Beethoven, mysterious “Hell Portals, a cold-hearted US Senator who will do anything to keep her past under wraps, and you have the chaotic acid trip that is City of Dark Magic.
This is kind of an odd book, and doesn’t quite fit into any particular genre. (You get the impression this is by choice, but from looking at reviews I have to conclude that more people are annoyed by it than are fans of the effect. I didn’t mind it, aside from it making this part of the review difficult.) Spy thriller? Sure, sometimes. Romantic comedy? Yeah, I can see that. Paranormal thriller? Yes, but not as much as the cover and synopsis imply. Mostly that comes at the very end. Historical Fiction? Not really, though for all I know all the historical info you get is completely accurate. I’m not a Beethoven scholar. Young Adult offering? The tone says yes, but the content says no. Erotica? No, but not for lack of trying.
Like I said, the book was entertaining despite its flaws–it held my interest, and for me that covers a multitude of sins when reviewing a book. That said, it did have a number of fairly problematic flaws that some people won’t be able to get past.
–The book is set up as a suspense thriller, but lacks suspense. Sarah is trying to figure out just what is going on, but you the reader already know what the villain is up to and who she is because you’ve been in her head from almost the beginning of the book!
–Through most of the book the villain is remembering a character by his first name and trying to recover evidence of their relationship that would be fairly damning for her career. At the same time Sarah is tracking the same character through the archives by his last name, trying to figure out what he did with certain items. This would be the perfect setup for a big reveal/WTF moment, and in fact you get that moment when Sarah figures out at least part of the picture, but the surprise is spoiled for the reader about a page and a half early when the narrator casually refers to him by his full name. The whole thing initially left me feeling stupid–“Wait, was I supposed to know that already?”–until I went back and checked…no, there was no way the reader could make that connection prior to that point. The deletion of the character’s first name in that conversation would immeasurably improve the suspense value of the book. Or, if suspense was never the intention, clear it up from the beginning and have one or both people refer to him by his full name.
–As a staunch conservative, I was offended by the polically correct characterization of the villain, Charlotte Yates, as a cold-blooded Republican senator. I’m tired of the villains in these things being members of the GOP. To make matters worse, the current (Republican) President at the time of the novel is a reincarnation of the worst parodies of Bush II. Even leaving my own offense at this aside, the authors are about five years too late for that to work well.
–Yates is characterized as “the most powerful” senator, but she holds no real position such as Speaker of the House or Senate Majority Leader. However good the authors’ research was in the area of Prague, they fell short on this one.
–A lot of the characters feel more like cariactures. There’s very little depth to most of them. Sarah had a bit more depth, but I didn’t find her overly likable–in fact, she’s a bit of a slut (her own words even, not mine!) Nico was probably the most interesting character, and fairly well developed, but doesn’t get enough page-time to counteract the one-dimensionalness (is that a word?) of the other characters.
–This has more to do with the marketing. The synopsis and ads I’ve seen on Goodreads are full of spoilers, including a bit about a “400-year-old dwarf,” a development that isn’t revealed until the last hundred pages or so and is supposed to be a surprise.
–Again, this kind of has to do with the marketing. The book is written under a pseudonym and there’s apparently a snide bit in some versions (not mine, I only saw it on the internet) about how the manuscript showed up unsolicited at the publishers with a weird postmark and just the author’s name on it. One reviewer completely attacked the book over this, saying that kind of thing drives him nuts. I personally don’t mind and am sometimes amused by this kind of thing–remember Lemony Snickett? I really hope this one blowhard didn’t cause the publisher to remove that note–the rest of the references to the author’s ficticious persona don’t make as much sense without it.
Content: This is squarely R-rated. There are multiple sex scenes that range from fairly explicit to largely implied. The language is definitely R-rated, but nowhere near the level of, say, a Tom Clancy novel. Violence is hard to rate in a book, given that it all depends on your imagination. There are multiple instances of fairly horrific violence, but the prose isn’t descriptively very gory.